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Oh, Johnnyby Jim Lehrer
Synopses & Reviews
“Call me Johnny. Oh Johnny Oh. Thats what my mom calls me. You can call me anything. But mainly call me a ballplayer. A center fielder. Im good, and Im going to be even better.”[pgs. 36,37]
A talented athlete, Johnny Wrigley firmly believes that someday he will play major league baseball. But on the way to his dreams, Johnny finds his life unexpectedly taking a detour. In April 1944, Johnny is a newly minted marine on a troop train heading west for California, where he will be shipped overseas to fight in the Pacific Theater.
At a brief stop in Wichita, Johnny gets off the train and falls in love. Shes giving apples and cigarettes to the marines, and she is the most beautiful girl Johnny has ever seen. In a storeroom at the station, they share an intimacy that Johnny will treasure for the next two years at warand beyond.
As a flamethrower operator on the suicide squad in Peleliu, Johnny sees the worst of battle. Scores of his fellow soldiers are killed around him, but memories of Betsy Luck (the private name Johnny has given his Kansas love) keep him safe. Yet nothing prepares Johnny for the combat in Okinawaand the terrible events that will haunt him forever.
Two years later, Johnny is back in Wichita, searching for the girl he wants to marry. But fate has different plans for Johnny, his long-dreamed-of baseball career, and the girl whose memory helped him survive.
Full of rich and vivid descriptions of Johnnys experiences both as a marine and as a ballplayer, Oh, Johnny is a compelling, emotionally complex story of one mans remarkable coming-of-ageand Jim Lehrer at his best.
"PBS NewsHour anchor Lehrer mixes baseball, WWII and romance in his 19th novel to mostly pleasant results. Even though Johnny Wrigley, from smalltown Lafayette, Md., is being scouted by the Detroit Tigers, he enlists in the Marines in April 1944 to 'kill Japs for America.' En route to deployment, Johnny meets Betsy, a striking but navely religious doughnut girl, falls instantly in love and seduces her. He vows he'll return for her, a quixotic obsession that sustains him through grittily rendered combat scenes in the Pacific. At the war's end, Johnny returns with marriage on his mind. But Betsy can't be found, and Johnny ends up in Baltimore with a menial bus company job and his big league dreams rekindled. But those, like his romantic fantasy, remain out of reach. Though Johnny's obsessive love for Betsy is a bit hard to swallow, his troubled postwar reintegration is nicely handled and gives readers insight into a Greatest Generation leatherneck." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In his 19th novel in a run going back to the mid-1960s, public television news host Jim Lehrer presents Johnny Wrigley, a baseball-loving Maryland country boy heading off in April 1944 to kill Japanese in World War II. On a troop train rolling cross-country to California, the 18-year-old Johnny savors "a kind of happy excitement" at the thought of what looms ahead. He is "all ready and eager to do... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) whatever it took to win the war." Johnny's troop train stops in Wichita for a half-hour's rest. It's here that Lehrer, unlike the train, goes off the tracks. Straining credulity, he creates a scene in which the virginal backwoods boy has sex with an equally chaste 17-year-old on hand with other girls to pass out apples and cigarettes to the disembarked Marines. Johnny spots the girl in a crowd. Instantly smitten, and with the train soon to pull out, he takes her to a station backroom for a quickie — on a cot that just happens, miraculously, to be there. With first-timer Johnny fumbling, the girl — an Amish-type religious lass named Betsy — prayerfully mumbles, "Forgive me, Father, for the mortal sin that is in my most evil heart and soul at this very moment." Done, the boy hitches his pants and, Semper Fi, scoots for the departing train. Fiction should be believable. Lehrer's sex scene isn't. For the rest of the novel, Johnny pines for Betsy. After the war, he does find her — implausibly so, by spotting her in the left-field bleachers while he's playing semipro baseball in Wichita. Nothing comes of this reunion. Betsy, now married to a conscientious objector, tells Johnny to "ask for forgiveness" for the killing he did as a Marine. The fluff and weightlessness of the cliched story line — boy meets girl, boy goes to war, bullet-dodging and lovesick boy yearns for girl — is matched by Lehrer's Kansas-flat language. Not a memorable metaphor or simile appears, unless you think describing a troopship as a "floating hellhole in rough seas" or a girl as having "a chocolate eclair smile on her face" soars to the literary heights. Reviewed by Colman McCarthy, who is director of the Center for Teaching Peace, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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From novelist and television personality Lehrer comes this work set during World War II, offering a rich, absorbing narrative of a young man trying to find his way in life and in love.
About the Author
Oh, Johnny is Jim Lehrers nineteenth novel. He is also the author of two memoirs and three plays and is the executive editor and anchor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. He and his novelist wife, Kate, have three daughters.
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